It's still all to race for in Lions' bid for final spot
Honours finished even in the back-to-back Premier League play-off meetings between Leicester Lions and Newcastle Diamonds.
On Saturday, the Lions continued their impressive home form at Beaumont Park by claiming three points from a 50-40 victory.
Newcastle, however, gained revenge with a 54-39 success at their home circuit last night.
It means the Diamonds top the three-team group on five points, having completed their programme.
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Somerset Rebels are second on four points, with the Lions on three. Both teams still have to play each other – on Friday and Saturday – and, realistically, the qualifier for the grand final will be one of these two.
The Lions produced a magnificent late rally to beat Newcastle 50-40 on Saturday.
The visitors had held the upper hand, having taken the lead in the second race when Leicester were down to one rider after Lewis Blackbird was left on the start line when his machine stopped.
They extended their lead in heat four but, two races later, the Lions were level when Kauko Nieminen rode a perfect line around the first two corners to allow his team partner Linus Eklof to join him at the front.
Leicester eased ahead after a twice-started heat seven that was originally stopped when Christian Henry fell.
At that moment, Jari Makinen was in front. In the re-run, the young Finn made another telling first corner and, with Magnus Karlsson third, the Lions were in front for the first time.
Newcastle drew level again in heat eight and the Lions were fortunate not to slip behind again in the next race when Jan Graversen crashed on the exit of the fourth bend. More misfortune followed when Eklof was excluded from the 10th heat when his machine developed a problem. Makinen deputised but could make no impression on the two Newcastle riders, who finished behind Nieminen for a share of the points.
A misjudged corner by Karlsson in heat 11 meant Leicester dropped another point, which handed Newcastle the lead for the second time in the meeting going into the break.
After an interval team-talk, the balance of power began to switch. Lasse Bjerre sparked the revival when he swept around Mark Lemon on the fourth bend of heat 12 to regain the lead.
It was an inspired piece of riding from the Dane, who had won his previous three races. Team partner Lewis Blackbird held off his opposite number Joe Haines, and the finishing order brought the scores level.
Gate four on the start-line was proving to be the best position and Karlsson used it to his advantage, winning heat 13 with ease with Nieminen second.
The Lions pressed ahead to outscore Newcastle in the penultimate race when Graversen passed Haines down the back straight. With Mäkinen gaining third, the match was now out of the Diamonds' reach.
All that was left was the destination of the bonus match point, and the Lions duly delivered.
Bjerre sped away from gate four to win his fifth consecutive race, while Nieminen skilfully worked his way past Lemon and Claus Nedermark to claim second and maximun points.
Leicester 50: Kauko Nieminen 11+3s, Linus Eklof 6+1, Lasse Bjerre 15, Jan Graversen 3, Magnus Karlsson 6, Jari Makinen 8, Lewis Blackbird 1.
Newcastle 40: Stuart Robson 6, Claes Nedermark 7+1, Mark Lemon 8+1, Christian Henry 2, Ludvig Lindgren 6+1, Paul Starke 1, Joe Haines 10+1
While it was Saturday nice, it was Sunday mourning for the Lions.
Leicester made one change, Simon Lambert, who was released earlier in the season, returning to replace the injured Makinen at reserve.
After the first heat finished in a 3-3, the home side began to gather momentum, starting with a 4-2 in the next race.
Blackbird suffered a fall and was forced to retire from the meeting.
Nieminen and Eklof took a 5-1 in heat five but it was the Lions who remained on the back foot and, after 10 heats, Newcastle held a commanding 37-23 lead.
An interval pep talk did the trick 24 hours earlier but how would they react this time?
Very well, actually, Niemien taking double points with a tactical ride in heat 11 and, with Eklof finishing second, the Lions banked an 8-1.
That, however, was as good as it got, but the Lions know they will live to fight another day.
Newcastle 54: Stuart Robson 4+1, Claes Nedermark 11+1, Mark Lemon 12+1, Christian Henry 7, Ludvig Lindgren 8, Paul Starke 2+1, Matt Wethers 10+3.
Leicester 39: Kauko Nieminen 15+2, Linus Eklof 7+4, Lasse Bjerre 4, Jan Graversen 2, Magnus Karlsson 5+1, Simon Lambert 6, Lewis Blackbird 0.